Supper around Lillian’s kitchen table began pleasantly enough. Joe recounted a funny story about Nate and his new pony, Eden told her parents about Sophia’s research plans and Lillian asked Eleanor about the themes of her next book.
But when a silence fell over the company, Eleanor put down her fork and looked directly at Joe. “There is something I came here to tell…all of you.”
Everyone stopped eating. Lillian looked at Eden, who was in turned to Eleanor with some apparent anxiety.
Eleanor wiped her hands slowly on the towel in her lap. “I have made Eden the sole heir of the Stephens estate.”
Lillian looked from her daughter to her guest. “Eleanor…”
But Joe, whom Eden was now watching intently, said nothing.
“Papa—” Eden began. But Joe pushed her chair away from the table and stood. She gave her daughter a silencing look, turned and walked out the kitchen door.
Eden looked at her mother with open panic, but Lily was watching Joe silently. Eden rose and followed her father.
She met Joe at the stable door. She could hear Arrow snort softly in his stall, probably wondering why his master was there at the wrong hour. “Papa?” she said again, squinting into the dark.
“Go on back to your mother,” Joe said without turning to face Eden. She stepped into the tack room, lit a lantern and pulled a bridle from the wall.
Eden stood in the doorway and watched her father take saddle soap and a rag from a trunk, close it and sit down on its lid to clean the bridle. Eden glanced around the room, but found nowhere she might sit herself.
“I told her I didn’t want it,” she said to Joe.
When her father said nothing, Eden went on. “But she’s done it anyway and I can’t do anything about it. She can do as she likes.”
Joe remained quiet for a long moment. “I suppose it’s justice enough that she should take you from us,” she said at last.
“She hasn’t, Papa. She can’t—”
But Joe stopped her, still not meeting her eye. “More than twenty years ago I took another man’s wife, another man’s children…even this ranch—it all came of your mother’s money and another man’s horses.” Joe shook her head. “I’m a pirate. But Eleanor Stephens is a better one.”
“I always thought it would be Lillian who would leave. I thought she would wake up one day and see what a fool she’d been to marry me…” she shook her head again.
Eden could barely breathe. A stab of pain twisted her stomach as Joe continued.
“When you were a little child and I saw how it was with you, I started to think that maybe you were mine after all. Your sister is named for my mother. But it was you who really seemed to belong to me. The hardest thing I ever had to do was leave you behind in Boston. And the first time I met her,” Joe nodded vaguely in the direction of the house where Eleanor sat with Lillian, “I knew that one day you’d go back to those people.”
“Back?” Eden said finally. “How could I go back to people I’ve never known? You and Mama and Minna…you are my people, Papa.”
Joe looked at Eden for the first time since she had left the dinner table. “You’re an alien here, Eden. You’ve always felt so. You’ve always wanted something else, even if you didn’t know what it was.”
It was true. Eden couldn’t deny it. But wasn’t she just as much an alien in Boston? In Paris? If Arizona wasn’t her home, what place was?
“You know I did my best to turn you into a rancher.” Joe raised the bridle before her and inspected it, turning it this way and that. “But that’s not who you are. Did you know it was me who told your mother that? It was me who said that you weren’t really like me—that what we had here wasn’t what you needed.”
“But that’s just it, Papa,” Eden said. “Eleanor is so much like you.”
“Like me?” Eden had truly surprised her father.
“She would spare nothing to give me what I need, though she doesn’t know what that is. I don’t need her money.” Eden caught her father’s eye so that Joe would see that she was sincere. “But she needs to give it to me.”
“What do you need, Eden?” Joe asked finally.
Eden was silent, trying on words in her mind. It came to her that what she didn’t have in Boston, in Paris, in London—anywhere but Arizona—was the sense that her father would be as welcome there as she was. The few times she’d been with Joe in Boston, she’d felt it keenly that her father chafed uncomfortably against the people and places and interests Eden had collected there. It kept Eden herself slightly out of step with these new aspects of her own life. There was always a part of her looking at everything through Joe’s eyes, imagining the eyes aroundher looking at Joe. To be anywhere but Arizona required Eden to leave
that part of herself that was Joe’s daughter behind. And yet, what need had Arizona for a society portrait painter?
“I need…” Eden began but stopped. She gathered the courage to meet her father’s eye and finished, “both of you.”